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HRW asks PM to revise union law

A union leader speaks during a garment factory protest in front of the National Assembly
A union leader speaks during a garment factory protest in front of the National Assembly earlier this year. A letter from HRW to Hun Sen yesterday called for a revision of the draft of the proposed trade union law to bring it in line with international labour rights standards. Heng Chivoan

HRW asks PM to revise union law

Human Rights Watch, in an open letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen, yesterday called for revisions to a controversial draft law governing labour unions that it contends would curtail labour groups’ activities.

Signed by the deputy director of HRW’s Asia division, Phil Robertson, the letter appeals to the premier to make public the latest version of the proposed legislation – which has been lambasted by labour rights advocates – to affected groups and civil society, and to amend its text so that it adheres to international standards.

“We are writing to urge that you immediately make public the latest draft of the proposed trade union law; consult with all stakeholders, including local and international unions and labor rights groups,” the letter says. “And revise the bill to bring it in line with international labor rights standards.”

The last version of the bill HRW obtained is from October, the letter says, and that draft fell far short of International Labour Organization standards for union rights. Since that time, neither HRW nor other rights groups or unions have been able to see revised versions, or participate in any discussion of the law.

That version places restrictions on labour union registration and leadership eligibility in unions, among other constraints. Rather than protecting and expanding union rights, the legislation would severely limit them, Robertson said in an email yesterday.

“The provisions aimed at curtailing unionisation in the draft seriously call into doubt the government’s overall commitment to protecting freedom of association,” he said. “There is absolutely no way this law in its current form can be characterised as something that protects freedom of association.”

Ministry of Labour officials had previously said they would submit the draft to the Council of Ministers by the end of last month, but it remains uncertain whether they have. Spokesmen for the Labour Ministry and Council of Ministers could not be reached yesterday.

Heng Sour, spokesman for the Ministry of Labour, said last week that the legislation is largely the same as the language they made public last year, and denied that it detracts from union rights.

“The format of this law has had nothing changed from the beginning,” Sour said last week. “No points in the law are created to stifle workers.”

Moeun Tola, head of the labour program for the Community Legal Education Center, yesterday said it is difficult to judge whether or not the government will take HRW’s letter into serious consideration.

“It’s quite hard to predict,” Tola said. “We see the government being so aggressive [in passing the law] at the moment without caring about the concern from the stakeholders.”

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